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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As the country begins preparations for the potential nationwide spread of the coronavirus, also called COVID-19, one thing is on everyone’s minds: Should we be worried?

U.S. health officials recently reported that the world is on the verge of a pandemic, and when it comes to containing the new virus, timing is everything.

“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

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The coronavirus is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, and was transmitted from animal-to-person. So far, the majority of people who have succumbed to the virus are from China, though cases have popped up in nearly 50 countries.

“The virus has adapted itself extremely well to transmissibility in humans,” Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Health Institute said.

The new virus has spread to every continent except for Antarctica in varying degrees.

People with questions about the virus can call the R.I. Department of Health at (401) 222-8022 or visit the department’s website.

What’s being done locally?

While the state of Rhode Island now has two presumptive cases of the virus, health officials assure the risk statewide remains low and there’s no need for residents to panic.

The state’s health director, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, said her department fully anticipated a case would pop up eventually and for weeks has been preparing to make sure there’s a structure in place to prevent the virus from spreading.

A task at which the state, according to Eyewitness News analyst Steven O’Donnell, excels at because of its size.

Lifespan, which owns four hospitals in the state, has taken inventory at each of its hospitals to ensure they’re stocked up on masks and other protective equipment.

Despite this, local hardware stores and pharmacies have seen mask shortages, including Adler’s Hardware in Providence and Simpson’s Pharmacy in Pawtucket.

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The situation is similar in neighboring Massachusetts, where the current risk also remains low.

The Mass. Department of Public Health said the state is prepared for the possibility of an outbreak and created an online guide that is regularly updated by health officials.

What’s being done nationally?

President Donald Trump tapped Vice President Mike Pence to coordinate the government’s response to the new virus and lead to the newly formed Coronavirus Task Force alongside Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

Trump has repeatedly reassured that the risk of a nationwide outbreak remains low and that the country is prepared to contain the virus.

“This will end,” Trump said regarding the outbreak. “You don’t want to see panic because there’s no reason to be panicked.”

Trump has accused media outlets of making the spreading illness look worse than it is in reality, even as the CDC warns it will likely have a significant impact on peoples’ lives.

The country has also restricted some international travel into the U.S. Travel notices are changing almost daily, and federal officials are repatriating citizens from high-risk areas.

“To date, our containment strategies have been largely successful,” CDC spokesperson Benjamin Haynes said. “But as more and more countries experience community spread, successful containment at our borders becomes harder and harder.”

What should we do?

Even though the chances of a local outbreak remain low, the CDC urges everyone to take precautions against potentially contracting the new virus:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask:
    • CDC does not recommend that people who aren’t sick wear facemasks to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
    • Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
    • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

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Courtesy: CDC

Right now, there is no vaccine or treatment recommended for the coronavirus, and anyone who believes they may have been exposed to the virus should seek medical assistance.

Symptoms of the coronavirus are similar to the flu and include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

The CDC reports that the symptoms may manifest in as few as two days or as long as 14 days.

Those who plan to travel should keep the aforementioned precautions in mind and, if possible, avoid China and South Korea where the risk of exposure is high.

Those who are looking to cancel preplanned trips or have questions regarding their travel plans are encouraged to contact their travel provider.